NBA Ballers: Chosen One Review

NBA Ballers: Chosen One looks flashy at first glance, but you never really feel like you're doing much more than triggering a series of animations.

NBA Ballers: Chosen One feels like a relic, like an old arcade game that's been given a fresh coat of paint, but no additional gameplay depth. Like an old arcade game, it's fun for awhile, but unless you have nostalgic feelings for, well, the other two Ballers games, you'll probably get fed up fast.

On-court fashion, taken to the next level.
On-court fashion, taken to the next level.
Like the previous games in the series, NBA Ballers is a fast-and-loose basketball game, with fewer rules and fewer on-court players than your typical basketball sim. Usually, the game is one-on-one on a half-court, though the game plays around with the rules a bit to create a lot of weird variations, especially in the single-player story mode.

When you're playing alone, you can create a player and go into the story mode, which is broken up into six episodes that are done up with video intros to make it seem like you're watching some kind of sports reality show, where we're following a bunch of NBA players and you, a street ball phenom who secures a last-minute entry into the proceedings. It doesn't get much deeper than that as you play--each episode is set up with a video from the game's announcer, Public Enemy #1 himself, Chuck D. While Chuck's love of basketball is probably as deep as it can possibly get, hearing him shill for Sprite throughout the game's fourth episode made me die a little inside. Oh well, at least he isn't making a fool of himself on VH1 or anything like that.

Each episode is broken up into chapters, each of which has a fighting game-like ladder of matches you must win to proceed. Most of these are pretty standard, though the game starts throwing in weird rules later on, like games where you have to complete combo moves before you win, or games that can only be won using a game-ending level 3 super dunk. It sort of keeps things fresh, but the real problem is that no one bothered to teach your artificially-intelligent opponents how to perform properly in any of these special rules games. Games where you lose if your opponent sinks a three-point shot are never a hassle, because the AI players almost never attempt threes in the first place.

I eventually got to a point where the game wanted me to complete three "pass-to-the-crowd" alley-oop dunks to win. After an hour of trying to get the crowd member to pass me the ball fast enough to complete the oop, I turned to the manual, which doesn't offer any assistance at all. A later challenge has you trying to stop your opponent from scoring at all, which hinges solely on if he counters out of your super steal move or not, making it feel more like luck than skill.

Aside from these special rules, though, the game is a total pushover. You have a lot of moves at your disposal, but you really only need to trigger the act-a-fool combo every time you get the ball. This brings up a little button-pressing minigame, where you try to hit a button to complete the combo before your opponent can counter by pressing the button faster. If you complete a five-move combo and quickly score, you get three bonus points for that basket. Considering most games play to eleven points, a five-point play is totally crippling, and the AI can never seem to pull it off to stay competitive and rarely breaks in and counters your combo.

Must have been a bad burrito.
Must have been a bad burrito.
With the single-player's group of problems, it's tempting to turn to multiplayer, and the game does have online play. Online, though, it feels like there's just enough latency to make the act-a-fool combos more difficult to counter, which changes the game for the worse. Playing against a local opponent levels the playing field a bit, but you'll still encounter crazy stuff, like the level three super dunk, which ends a game if it hits and can only be stopped by a level two super block. All of the super moves trigger flavorful animations, but there aren't enough of them to keep things flashy or entertaining, and some of them, like all the super shots, which have the ball making 45-degree turns in midair to swish through the net, just look messed up.

It has some nice animations and the player models look great, and it's actually pretty decent, in small doses. But everything about the gameplay feels really mechanical and absolutely inorganic, like nothing you're doing with the controller feels connected to the moves that are coming out on the other end. Chosen One's canned moves and button-mashing minigames make it feel like a relic from the PS2 and Xbox era. It's going to take a pretty serious overhaul for Ballers to get up to date and compete.